Sacred Steps Podcast

3: Interview with Camino Pilgrim Johnniewalker / We Walk For You Camino 2020

Episode Summary

Camino de Santiago pilgrim Johnnie Walker ( joins Author Kevin Donahue ( to discuss the Camino in the age of Covid and his emotional "We Walk For You" Camino, in which Johnnie carried prayer requests across the Camino Frances for those who could not walk this year. A companion to the book Sacred Steps: A Pilgrimage Journal by Kevin Donahue, the Sacred Steps Podcast walks virtually alongside authors and pilgrims, connecting a community of pilgrims from across the globe. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for the Sacred Steps Podcast, please visit or email

Episode Notes

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Camino de Santiago pilgrim Johnnie Walker ( joins Author Kevin Donahue ( to discuss the Camino in the age of Covid and his emotional "We Walk For You" Camino, in which Johnnie carried prayer requests across the Camino Frances for those who could not walk this year. 










MEET OUR GUEST:  Johnniewalker

Johnniewalker is retired and lives in Santiago. He has walked thousands of kilometers on pilgrim routes in Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Japan. He has so far written 15 books about the Camino to Santiago including a range of guidebooks and three Spiritual Companions for pilgrims, with proceeds donated to pilgrim causes and charities. In his professional career he was founding Director for Scotland for the National Lottery Charities Board, Chief of Staff to the First Minister of Scotland, and founding Chief Executive of UnLtd the UK wide Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs which was awarded the Millenium Legacy of £100 million.


MEET THE HOST:  Kevin Donahue

Husband. Father. Backpacker. Pilgrim. Author.

In 2019, Kevin Donahue set off from his home in the United States to begin a pilgrimage journey spanning both years and miles, walking across continents to the ancient end of the world, to kneel at the tombs of eight Apostles. Available for Easter 2022, Sacred Steps: A Pilgrimage Journal, is Kevin's first-hand account of the people and places found along the way to inspire questions and enlighten answers about faith, hope, and love.



Sacred Steps: A Pilgrimage Journal

Available from print and digital booksellers for Easter 2022, Sacred Steps: A Pilgrimage Journal is the first-person account of a reluctant pilgrim navigating the eternal questions of faith while walking along the world’s revered paths. The book follows one man’s journey through Portugal and Spain on the Camino de Santiago, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean connecting California’s Missions Trail, across England’s ancient Pilgrims’ Way, and onward towards Rome via Europe’s forgotten footpaths on a journey of soulful discovery. More than a travelogue, Sacred Steps: A Pilgrimage Journal is a first-hand account of a pilgrim's journey and the people and places he finds to inspire questions and enlighten answers about faith, hope, and love.


Episode Transcription

Announcer  0:08  

Walking virtually along the world's most revered footpaths, and connecting the global community of pilgrims, it's the sacred steps podcast available on YouTube and your favorite podcast app broadcasting from the shame air studios in Florida. Here's your host pilgrim, backpacker, and author Kevin Donahue.


Kevin Donahue  0:37  

Buen camino pilgrims and welcome back to the Sacred Steps Podcast. On this show, we're walking virtually alongside pilgrims and authors connecting a community of pilgrims from across the globe. My name is Kevin Donahue, pilgrim, backpacker, and author of sacred steps of pilgrimage journal. On today's episode, we're walking virtually alongside camino pilgrim Johnnie Walker from Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Many will know Johnny's name from the community forums and Facebook groups he helps moderate. This summer, Johnny took prayer requests from the global pilgrim community and walk them across the entirety of the Camino Frances. In an emotional we walk for you camino in the age of COVID. Stay tuned after our interview for a preview of our next episode. And be sure to click Subscribe on YouTube or your podcast app so that our episodes download automatically to your device. And now on with the show. Let's welcome Johnnie Walker to the Sacred Steps Podcast.


JohnnieWalker  1:43  

Hi, Kevin. Greetings, this fine afternoon from Santiago de Compostela.


Kevin Donahue  1:48  

wonderful to have you on I am so excited to welcome you to the podcast. Of course many of our audience know you from your work in the pilgrim community. Would you tell us a little bit about what drew you to the Camino de Santiago?


JohnnieWalker  2:04  



this is no, almost 20 years ago, I was I was progressing in my career. And I was doing difficult jobs, starting out charitable and public organizations that had got themselves into difficulty. And there's no shortage of them when we tell you, but I was getting older. And I had kind of made myself a promise that when I had enough money to satisfy my needs, if not all of my wines, then I would try to change my life and spend more time doing other things than executive management jobs. Anyway. I can't I've never had anything of the community San Diego and I was invited to dinner, the chairman of the boards house and off I went to this beautiful house and he said to me come into the drawing room. Both Jenny is preparing dinner. And we're into the this lovely room. And there on the wall was a map of what I know know, to be the Camino Frances. And I didn't know it was a communal front there's and there was a red line going along the top of Spain and a photograph of his wife with a rucksack marching along because she was doing it in stages. And whenever she went and did another week or two, they move the photograph well over dinner tonight. She told me all about the convener, the baggies, the blisters, the fellowship, the sense of freedom, the sense of self discovery, and so forth. Anyway. I've never had the Camino but the seed was planted. And then over the next four years, I did all my research on the internet. They joined the forum's I used to sit at my desk, calculating my pension fund, daydreaming for the day for the day when I could escape, and I started walking, that led me taking the decision. To start off on the via de la Plata is my camino from Seville I've been going to Seville for four or five summers playing the organ in a church in the center of Seville. I've got friends in Seville and I thought that there was a place to which I would retire and sip chilled cherry under an orange tree. Life is not like that my client didn't work. And on the on the second of January 2007. I set out from My Little House in Seville I looked back and said I'm going to return here to retire and live. But of course 36 days later, I arrived in San Diego and everything had changed and here we are


Kevin Donahue  5:01  

And here we are more than a decade later. Wonderful, sir. Thank you for sharing that with us. I appreciate it very much. This year, Johnny and Stephen put together a project in recognition of the global COVID pandemic. And Johnny, you both realized many pilgrims had not only put off their camino pilgrimages this year, but also, sadly, many of our pilgrim community were directly impacted by COVID, either themselves or their family. And the two of you put together a camino called the we walk for you, camino, to walk the Camino Frances, and you enlisted prayer request from the pilgrim community and, and the community responded,


JohnnieWalker  5:51  

well, almost 400 people wrote to us and centers there. their prayers, their hopes, their desires, their wishes, it was a huge privilege, actually. And it's something that I would encourage other pilgrims to do when they're preparing for their pilgrimage. Now, whether they believe in God or not, whether they belong to a church, but all irrelevant, but I invite my fellow pilgrims to do is to say to the family and friends, people in the golf club, people in the church, people in the street, if you have any thing that you want me to reflect on, and to pray about, while I walk on my camino, to Santiago, and to lay before the tomb of St. James and Santiago de Compostela, please write them down and give them to me. And I would encourage everybody to do that. Because it was a very, very humbling experience. For people who wrote often very passionate about very personal matters, and trusted us with thinking about them as we went on our pilgrim we,


Kevin Donahue  7:02  

that has to


JohnnieWalker  7:04  

the next the next time you're preparing for the Camino, Kevin, I expect you to knock your next door neighbor's door and say, What do you want me to pray for?


Kevin Donahue  7:13  

Indeed, I will. And I will take that on my next journey. So I appreciate that Council. It must have been such a, an honor and privilege to walk these prayers across the Camino. Francis, there are so many points across the Camino, that those who are who are of the faith recognized as having such significance. I'm wondering for you, carrying prayers of friends and pilgrims, if there were some moments that stood out to you along the Camino, that you might share with the pilgrim community today.


JohnnieWalker  7:55  



these prayers were about every aspect of the human condition. And so we, we, we, we read them and we prayed and we reflected every morning as we set out, and we stopped at an appropriate point in the day, many of the prayers were, were born of grief for pilgrims who have lost loved ones recently, and also some time ago, who wanted their dead remembered on this pilgrimage. And as you know, on the Camino, Fran says, There are little memorials that people have set up to pilgrims who have died, but also to the loved ones. And so high in the mountains in Montana, the Orca, we decided that we would set up our own Memorial. And we, we set up a little Memorial, we had the shell, we had the we had the data stick with 400 prayers on it. And we dedicated that moment and that place, to all of the all of the dead, that we'd been asked to pray for that Calvin's had written to us about and it was a very emotional moment. But it was a great honor to do it, Kevin.


Kevin Donahue  9:16  

I've seen the photos and we'll link them in the show notes because for those of you who are interested in seeing some of the videos and the blog postings that Johnny and Steven did along the Camino Francis, I'll link it below in the show notes so that you can see those. There's a beautiful photo from cruise the Pharaoh of the stone that you both placed marking the we walk for you camino. You also mentioned in the blog post that many of the prayers were for our global community in general not specifically for a person or a pilgrim but for our greater world. What was that like to read some of those prayers for pilgrims?


JohnnieWalker  10:00  

Well, this is very interesting. And I think it says something about the pilgrim spirituality, which is perhaps in in every pilgrim, whether they admit it or not, no matter what the prayer was a prayer for young people appear for my child, appear for my daughter who can't get a job, a prayer for my marriage, which is in difficulty, prepare for someone, please pray for someone who is ill, no matter the prayer, I would say 95% of people also finish the prayer request by saying, and it's time that we all prayed for the world, that it may become a better place, that it may become a healthier place, that the environment may be preserved for future generations. And I found that quite remarkable that it over 400 prayers, that 90% more than 90% finished with a prayer for other people. That's it. And


Kevin Donahue  11:02  

as you said, it speaks to the Camino pilgrims spirit, the the community of pilgrims worldwide that that have become connected to one another through their common spirit, their common experiences and their common passion for the community in general. And I'd like to speak to you about that and just get your perspective. You have been involved in philanthropy, you've been involved in charitable support. You've been involved in the Camino for more than a decade. There are many people sitting at home right now that wish they could do more to help the people that they've met along the Camino. And the Berg is the charitable organizations that support the missions throughout Spain and France, Portugal. Could you give us some insight, share your local perspective? I'm at home, what can I be doing either financially or spiritually to support those who are not seeing pilgrims along the Camino this year?


JohnnieWalker  12:07  

Well, you could do what I do, which is raise money. Ask your friends, ask your wealthy friends, to donate to donate some money or make a donation yourself. In each of the English language countries that are pilgrim associations, American pilgrims on the Camino the contract of St. James, in the United Kingdom, the Canadian company of pilgrims, the Australian Friends of the Camino, approached your local pilgrim Association, make a donation to them or ask them how you can help on the Camino forum ivers community forum and also on Facebook, that are lists of our baggies and people who are asking for money to keep their business their camino business going. You need to take a choice about that. My priority is supporting of the charitable about his and the charitable initiatives on the committee because I think they find the most difficult to sustain themselves in this very, very difficult time. So I think there's lots that people can do get sponsors for your next camino. Kevin, what's your plan for your next kimito?


Kevin Donahue  13:15  

Well, I'm,


I'm glad you asked. Let me first say, please check the show notes. For this. I'm going to link all of the charitable organizations that john mentioned below in the show notes so that if you're looking you have it in your heart, the opportunity to support some of these organizations can just click one link take you directly to their donation pages, so please check the show notes below. As far as my next steps, john, I was one of those pilgrims who's whose plans were dashed by the COVID pandemic and I did the Camino Portuguese in 2019. My next steps are actually headed back to the British Isles. I had the opportunity to learn more about one of the historic pilgrimages across England and I'll walk England's pilgrims way from London, to Canterbury. And then excellent again COVID willing My plan is to walk from Canterbury to Rome and try to complete that epic pilgrimage across Europe. There are a lot of things that have to shake out over the next few months. But I think God willing and COVID willing, hopefully by next spring or summer, some of those plans can start to take shape.


JohnnieWalker  14:36  

But just on the on the whole issue of the COVID plans. Some people found my camino, we walk for you walking the Camino, Fran says to be controversial and they said you shouldn't be walking the Camino at the time of the pandemic. I just want to say a brief word about this. I live here in Santiago in Spain, where there have been great difficulty controlling The virus spreads through communities. In fact, only just the other day, restaurants and bars in San Diego are able to open again, because we come through a period of serious restrictions. Now, the rules are very simple. The virus is passed from contact from person to person. Since March of this year, I have had no physical contact with another human, I haven't hugged anybody, I haven't kissed anybody haven't shook their hands, and that these were the rules which are applied. As we walk the Camino front there's no contact with local people wearing masks or time plan training or hands keeping everything spotlessly clean, and that's the way the infection is kept under control. So, herbs was a highly controlled camino. And well, it was a great blessing to be able to do.


Announcer  15:59  

The conversation continues momentarily. For information and links from the show, visit sacred steps know someone considering pilgrimage, share this episode as a text from your device. Thank you for listening. To support the show, please leave a star rating in your podcast app. And now the sacred steps podcast continues.


JohnnieWalker  16:29  

And Kevin, how's that? How's your book coming on before we change the subject? Well,


Kevin Donahue  16:35  

the book is a work in progress like my life, john, to be honest with you. (laughter) I have I have literally many miles to go before I finish I want to so much of the book is about my faith journey and my pilgrimage journey and my walks have been solo walks in a bit introspective, learning to accept my relationship again with God and where my life fits on a day to day basis within that relationship. And so I'm working on the book, I hope to have it by Easter 2022 but I feel like I still have a few more miles to go before I finished but thank you for asking. I appreciate it.


JohnnieWalker  17:22  

I'm sorry to sound like like your old man, Kevin. But please be careful. writing about the Camino is a dangerous thing. No, in 2008 I went I said to the alternatives in jeans. I want to walk the Camino Inglis and they gave me some walking notes. And they said maybe you could update these walking loads. And so I wrote the first game, my first guidebook to the Camino English. I'd only ever written financial reports until then. And no 16 books later, Kevin. So be very careful. This is addictive.


Kevin Donahue  18:01  

I appreciate the word of caution. Now I have to tell you, if you're interested in in seeing Johnny's guidebooks, we'll link them in the show notes below. But those guidebooks also go to support the charitable organizations for the Camino de Santiago. I don't believe I have 16 books in me. I'm struggling to get the first one out, john. So once I get it, we'll put it in the rearview mirror and see what happens. What about you what?


JohnnieWalker  18:29  

When I come back and interview you and see a four or five years time, Kevin, we'll see how many books you've written then


Kevin Donahue  18:36  

I look forward to it. We'll have a glass of sherry under a tree together, and we'll we'll see what we've both accomplished over the last several years. Speaking of caminos, and pilgrimages, john, what's on your calendar? Will you be walking in 2021? And if so, what routes might you consider?


JohnnieWalker  18:57  

I'm definitely going to be walking in 2021. My plan my habits is to play as you know, I'm an organist. I play the organ, in the charts the facility of the Jesuit Basilica hidden in Santiago, and I will play on Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent. And every year I have a Lenten pilgrimage. And this year is going to be yet again the Camino Portuguese coastal route, which I absolutely love. Walking some of these routes, so often people say hello to me as I passed by, but we'll see what stage the vaccination program is that by that point in both Spain and Portugal, we will continue to be extremely careful and maintain the rules of no contact with other people. throwing your hands at all times and wear a mask when you're around other people. And that's what I'll be doing so as weapons is the date.


Kevin Donahue  20:01  

Johnny, thank you so much for joining us on the Sacred Steps Podcast. It has been a true pleasure to speak with you gentlemen of the Camino. I look forward to seeing you in 2021, perhaps on the Camino Portuguese, perhaps in Santiago de compostella. Thank you again for joining us on the sacred steps podcast.


JohnnieWalker  20:21  



it was my pleasure. Good luck.


Kevin Donahue  20:23  

Thank you, john. Appreciate it. On our next episode, we're walking virtually alongside pilgrim Kevin Constantine, who recently completed the Via francigena and the Way of St. Francis to Assisi. If you're interested in these European and Italian pilgrimage routes, please click subscribe so that our next episode downloads automatically to your phone or device. Thank you for joining us for the sacred steps podcast. I'm your host Kevin Donahue. Until next time, be well stay safe and buen camino


Announcer  21:03  

this has been the sacred steps podcast, visit sacred steps for episode notes, links or to contact Kevin, watch us online on YouTube. We read every comment, please add your review and feedback. Before you go. Tap subscribe to have episodes added to your playlist. Until next time, buen camino


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